We went to a water park in Durban on our rest day to celebrate Dave Fletchers birthday. It was there, in the aquarium, that we met Napoleon the turtle. While the others cruised about in the hope they might see a dive assistant being eaten by a shark and trying to dispel the disappointment of the water slides being shut, I took some time to commune with Napoleon. You’ll not believe the stuff he’s seen and what he has to say on matters. You’d think that he’d be a bit upset with his circumstances, his freedom restricted and having to suffer the throngs of enquiring punters every day. But he was so chilled. He said the enjoyment he experiences from making his slow, fluid movements is the same no matter the volume of water he makes them in. He gets fed regularly and doesn’t need to waste his energy hunting for food allowing him more time to improve his mind (by playing Chess apparently). And he gets to see so much more in terms of human expression than any of his wild counterparts. We never fail to amuse him. Our awe struck faces make him giggle as you can see. He got me thinking about perceptions of contented ness. There we were, a bunch of mountain bike racers, diving about trying to experience everything more, faster and better whereas if we just stood still and tweaked our minds instead we could reach the place we are clamouring to find in our frantic movements. We have flown to the other side of the world to ride our bikes and while it is incredible here, the same feelings could be found riding from our back door. If we are able to think like Napoleon, that is, which is not always easy. He says more Chess might be the answer but his eyes were twinkling at the time.
Travis Walker (unlikely surname for a bike rider, I know) kindly came to our rescue the other day as we fiddled about on the uncompleted World Cup Course trying to piece a lap together. After an hour of retracing our tyre tracks, Rourke called Travis who came down to the Cascades course and led us out. I was grateful for this initially until I realised that his arrival coincided with an increase in pace. Perhaps he was still traumatised and this is why he continues to ride everywhere as though there are a pair of sharp horns inches from his arse. Or it could be that he’s just fast. Its probably that. Whatever. I found the best way to keep up was to imagine myself in a similar scenario. Perhaps I ll employ someone to ride behind me wearing a pair of buck horns. Or train a buck myself to ambush me in races Pink Panther style. Every advantage worth considering. Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange
30km from Pietermaritzburg lies Wartburg, a German settlement nestled amongst rolling green hills and littered with red, dusty ribbons of single track. Race start was 8am which meant getting up in the middle of the night for breakfast but with the temperature forecast to hit 50 degrees C, it was the lesser of 2 evils. Over 1000 people turned up to race the 45km course that took us through mango plantations and along the top of rocky out crops. A beautiful route that I occasionally remembered to look up and appreciate. It also served to take my mind off my cramping hip flexors. The whole event was exceptional. The single track actually felt choreographed with 2 separate lines for faster and slower riders but both experiencing the loamy, loose twists and turns through the lush forest. On every corner, tiny black kids chased after every bike yelling and demanding Hi Fives. I started hard and dropped the other girls in the bunch keeping the hammer down until I was sure they were off my wheel then I eased up and kept it steady all the way to the finish. 45 km in 2 hours 10. 1st woman home. I definitely had weeks training in my legs but 2 hours with Celia on those sorts of trails is cathartic no matter the blood lactate levels!
The Orange Monkey boys did themselves proud taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the mens race. Afterwards I took tea on the lawn with 2 elderly ladies who liked my shorts and wondered where Inverness was. Home now for a plunge in the pool and debrief in the hammock. With an avocado perhaps.
It’s true. Look! (Celia the Lapierre had to be in the photo too just to make it believable). This tree is right outside my digs and I have just bought a hammock to sling from it’s branches to aid the r&r in the afternoons. Today I rode £5000 worth of posh bike through the middle of Pietermaritzburg to get to a rendezvous. As I rode along through the hot air and traffic, avoiding cars and kamikaze pedestrians, I wondered to myself if this was safe. Then I began thinking that that is a word used a lot here. As is exclusive. Both these things get in the way of seeing the people and their culture and country. If you stay safe and shop and dine only in exclusive places you limit the risk, yes, but you also lose the adventure and the challenge. Nothing happened to me on my commute through town except attracting a few beaming smiles and high spirited comments about the beauty of Celia (it’s true, she is a peach). That’s not to say I m going to let my guard down. Don’t worry mum. But I think there is a way to be careful without being exclusive and anxious out here. Risk is necessary for growth and by being alive we experience it whether we like it or not so there’s no point in trying to avoid it completely. What sort of mountain biker racer would I be if I thought otherwise. I ll take my time and figure it out. I ll get the right balance. It might take some pondering in the hammock with a ripe avocado…
So today we sat down over breakfast and negotiated a STEADY 4 hour road ride. We would ride to Piggly Wiggly coffee shop (2 hours), fuel up and return. We just reached the coffee shop and without a word the boys powered on. I sneaked off the back and am hanging out in the dappled shade with an americano. I kind of hope they come back. I have no idea where I am…
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Bloody hell it's 40 degrees C! I thought that after my little journey here and my big effort in Saturday's race, I might allow myself to arrive and have a couple of easy, steady rides. What is steady for Dave, Ben and Paul, however, is hangingonmytheskinofmyteethfor3hours for me! I think I must have sweated my body weight in fluid. Whimper.
It seems I didn’t need Yoda after all. I LOVE this country and it’s glorious weather and the course at Giba Gorge was so well designed!Didn’t start well today though. We all woke up this morning and compared stories of feeling rough in the night. Poor Dave Fletcher was worst off and didn’t even make the start line. I had no idea what to expect of myself in this my first race of the season. My preparation over winter had been quality but a little stop start due to the weather. Today it rained. I was so glad. The temperature a cool 20 degrees allowing me to ease into racing gently (ease into racing gently? What?). I stood on the start line with Yolanda Speedy (got me thinking I should change my name) and decided to stay on her wheel as long as possible without bowing a gasket. The first lap I went hard but then backed off a bit as planned and a gap developed between me and the top 3. I consolidated my efforts and tried to find a steady rythem. I felt good. Strong despite being taken out hard by a bad overtake on a slippy bridge. I lost concentration on laps 3 to 5, forgetting to race so when the bell went for the final lap I realised I still had heaps in my legs. I put on the power again and clawed back a place feeling very strong but riding safe to cross the line in 3rd place, some valuable UCI points in the bag. The prize money will come in handy too! The atmosphere and people at the race were amazing. Everyone is so friendly and generous here. Afterwards most of the elite women sat down on the huge sofas of the bike arenas cafe veranda and ate together while some kind boys washed our bikes (have I mentioned recently just how much I love my bike?). Well done Rourke, Ben and Paul my Orange Monkey-Cannondale house mates on their rides. 2nd, 5th and 18th respectively. Time to take the foot off the gas a bit now and take care of ourselves before our next Cat 1 race in 2 weeks time.
We are here! Paul Beales, Dave Fletcher (Orange Monkey-Cannondale) and I flew to South Africa from Gatwick on Wednesday. The learning here is that at 33 years of age I can no longer go 38 hours without sleep. It didn’t help that my seat exploded during the Dubai to Durban leg forcing me to assume a complex yoga posture for the remainder of the journey. We got to our accommodation just outside Pietermaritzburg at 8pm last night and our senses were immediately blasted with the humidity, insect sounds and silhouettes of low, wide trees stretching out across the open veldt. Today, despite our journey, plane food and, in my case enforced yoga we got out on course practise cos our first race is tomorrow (yikes!). The Giba Gorge race course is fast flowing with steep ups through dense foliage and, to make life more exciting, heavy rain forecast. Oh yes. It was the first time out of my new Lapierre Team Race today too and she didn’t let me down. In fact, thank God for super bling bikes compensating for sub optimal rider performance. South Africa is beautiful and vibrant and I think I am going to grow to like it here very much. Unless I have a crap race tomorrow in which case, I never liked the place and its weather and the course was badly designed. Plan B is to subtly substitute myself with Yoda the monkey. His lightness and nimbleness should, I think, make up for his not being able to reach the pedals. I ll get him a tiny Cratoni helmet. Safety first, Yoda.
He gave me £1 for my trolley! Kind man